News: Central Texas teams up to make soldiers' holiday season memorable
Story by Sgt. Angel Turner
FORT HOOD, Texas — From shiny bicycles to baby dolls and trucks, an array of toys make the list of wants for children of all ages.
While their parents are clamoring to play Santa and pinching pennies to try to make their little ones’ dreams come true, small children don’t often understand the realities of financial hardships and that all of those wants have price tags.
Santa’s Workshop provides gifts to Fort Hood’s military families who need assistance in making this holiday season a memorable and joyous one.
Whether the soldier is junior enlisted, a noncommissioned officer or a commissioned officer, Santa’s Workshop does not discriminate against soldiers needing financial help.
Santa’s Workshop has helped Fort Hood Families for 15 years. What started as a 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) function over time transitioned to a post-wide effort.
Soldiers of the 41st Fires Brigade and the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade recently participated in Santa’s Ruck March where Families marched one mile to donate toys to those in need.
Senior leaders with the 1st Cavarly Division also came together to donate toys to the workshop.
A local store manager, Donn Renner has taken part in Santa’s Workshop for three years.
“I think this really shows that the community respects everything that Fort Hood and the soldiers do,” Renner said. “I think everybody has a feel for some of the hardships soldiers might go through and the sacrifices they make. I think everyone feels a part of that, and they like to give back when they can.”
With the boxes of toys loaded up and ready to go back to Fort Hood for inventory, Renner added, “Hopefully this will bring a little more joy to the families and kids.”
This year, 1,850 families with about 4,000 children will receive gifts.
To maintain a sense of dignity, parents are given an elf who acts as their personal shopping assistant and a shopping cart — an all expense paid shopping trip.
Neatly arranged toys, separated by age and price range, line the aisles of Santa’s Workshop shopping area.
Lisa West, president of Santa’s Workshop, joined the workshop last year as an elf. She had one encounter that truly made an impact on her.
“My first customer was a young spouse,” West said. “I walked her through the aisles, and she just started crying. She was so thankful and overwhelmed that people were doing this for her family.”
Despite constant inventorying of the toys and ensuring there are enough gifts to accommodate Fort Hood families, West describes her job as a labor of love and said Santa’s Workshop is the most rewarding volunteer work that she has done as an Army volunteer —10 years now.
“She was so worried she wasn’t going to be able to give her kids anything, and she walked out of here with enough toys to have a great Christmas,” said West about her first customer.
“That sticks in my head — we’re making a difference,” she added.
Local businesses and people within the Fort Hood and Central Texas community provide the donations year-round which constantly get inventoried to ensure the families that need the most help can indeed be helped.
Volunteers at the workshop also host fundraisers throughout the year to help raise money to buy toys.
An estimated 200 families will shop during the designated shopping days from Dec. 4 through Dec. 6.
“Everybody needs help at some point, whether it’s financially, emotionally, or even psychologically,” said West, a former 1st Cavalry Division spouse.
“Some soldiers have a stigma against asking for help, but that’s what we’re here for,” continued West. “That’s what the military community does. We help each other, and when you accept help that speaks greatly of you. Once you understand that, you are in a better position to give help.”
Additional donations can be dropped off at Santa’s Workshop, located next to the Clear Creek Commissary.